For those of you who have followed the story of my duckweed farm and now processing plant, you’ll know how happy I am to have secured a warehouse with lots of space to grow the company. Tucked in one corner is a stand-alone office, one of those preassembled buildings within a building. It measures 10 by 20 ft. Perfect for a laboratory. First step was a total clean up from the roof to the floor. Then I ripped out all the old floor tiles as many were missing or loose. Then did spot drywall repair. Yesterday and today I spent painting the interior with the help of my daughters. We went with white satin walls and a light grey painted floor. One more coat tomorrow and I’ll take an “after” picture. Love the new no VOC paints these days.
Gotta start thinking about building counters and a few storage shelves. Nothing too fancy. Plywood will have to do for now for counter tops unless I run across a freebie somewhere. Recyclemania!!!
Am happy to accept recycled labware and lab equipment if anyone has any sitting in storage somewhere. Anything would be greatly appreciated.
Repost from March,2012
Duckweed grows on benign neglect in the wild. However, to cultivate it in a garden setting, duckweed does have a few definite needs if it is to thrive consistently.
1. Like any vascular plant, duckweed needs a minimum of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and micro nutrients. Sources can be as simple as a little humus and/or soil or compost tea. To achieve high protein levels of 40% or greater, duckweed needs added nitrogen, preferably in the form of ammonia from animal waste. This is why it thrives so well in fish aquariums.
Nitrogen sources can include fish wastewater, chicken coop drainage, some types of grey water, vermiculture liquor, or aged manure. If a solid, place in a gunny sack and lower into the water column. This releases a steady amount of nitrogen and trace elements for a couple of weeks. Replace if you see duckweed roots grow to an inch or longer. Some people will occasionally spray the duckweed with an organic-based foliar spray as another source of nutrients.
2. Duckweed thrives at a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 If algae is present in large quantities, it can raise the pH to dangerous levels by virtue of CO2 production at night. The trick is to monitor pH, especially if algae is present. Encourage an adequate surface covering of duckweed at all times to suppress algae production.
3. Harvest duckweed as needed but leave about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of wet duckweed per square meter on the surface of a pond daily. This insures enough of a cover to slow down algae growth or suppress it altogether. As an added benefit, this much covering also helps with mosquito control, water evaporation and temperature issues. More than 2 1/2 pounds of wet duckweed per square meter will result in its demise, as it self mulches at that concentration.
4. Duckweed prefers water temperatures of 50 to 90 degrees. Above or below that range, duckweed just sort of sits there. Much above 90 degrees, your duckweed crop will crash and it won’t be pretty. Ways to circumvent this is light shading from surrounding trees, plants or shade cloth hung over the growing area.
5. Keep water movement to a minimum. As duckweed floats on the surface, strong winds will push it to the edge of the pond where it will begin to pile up in layers, effectively self-mulching the layers beneath. Grow taller food crops around the perimeter to shield it from the wind.
Duckweed is an amazing crop that gives much more than it gets, but still needs a few basic “gotta haves” in order to reach its full potential in a garden setting.
Speaking before the Mayfield, KY Rotary Club this past week. Fakhoorian described her company’s unique offerings of aquatic-based, nutritious duckweed formulations for a variety of patent-pending pet food treats, supplements, and foods. Product roll-out is expected in late November of this year.
Fakhoorian’s vision for her company began five years ago while doing research on aquatic species for bioenergy. She immediately realized the benefits of what many consider a “nuisance” plant- duckweed as a potential candidate for bioenergy and animal feedstock from waste nutrient streams. She began experimenting with it in laboratory and outdoor settings. Partnering with Paul Skillicorn of Austin, TX, who has built duckweed production systems in S. America, Bangladesh, and India, Fakhoorian moved from pilot to commercial-scale this past spring. “Our team had to engineer and hand-build harvesting and processing systems as there was nothing on the market designed with duckweed in mind,” she said. In keeping with her vision for sustainability, she personally designed a solar boat to aid in harvesting and used solar hot air to dehydrate the duckweed meal. Fertilizer sources were primarily from locally composted animal manure.
“What this means for the United States and beyond is a more sustainable approach to meeting the concerns that face modern agriculture,” said Fakhoorian. “Duckweed is excellent at absorbing waste nitrogen and phosphorus from crop run-off and animal waste lagoons. Solar dried and pelleted, duckweed rations can be fed to cattle, swine, poultry, and fish- in some cases, reducing feed costs by as much as 50%. The resulting nearly potable water can be recycled back into the farm, repeating the cycle over and over.
Duckweed is the tiniest flowering plant on Earth, with the smallest species being the size of a pencil tip. Duckweed is also one of the fastest growing plants, doubling in volume every two days. When dried, its protein content is comparable or slightly better than soy but out-produces soy as much as ten times on a yearly basis. Duckweed has proven to be a valuable biomass for animal feed, bioenergy, bioplastics, and even human food.
Fakhoorian serves as Executive Director of the International Lemna Association, the first trade association in the world dedicated to commercial duckweed production, education, and research. To learn more about duckweed, visit InternationalLemnaAssociation.org/. Learn more at http://www.GreenSunProducts.com tamraf@greensunproducts.
I have been a dedicated black coffee drinker since the tender age of sixteen. My grandmother introduced me to my first steaming porcelain cup during the refreshment time of a Lutheran Ladies’ Aid meeting.
“It’s best just as it is, with no cream or sugar to cloud the flavor,” she instructed. I lifted the cup to my lips and felt the warning of hot porcelain on my lower lip but trustingly tilted the scalding liquid into my mouth. Tears formed at the jolt of pain. Do I swallow or spit it out in front of twenty women? I chose to do neither and toughed it out. My mouth burned and burned.
Grandma said ”Oh, and you have to sip it slowly, allowing air to mix with it so you don’t get burned.”
I recovered from that scalding first mouthful and tried it again, this time noisily sipping a few drops because I did not want to disappoint my grandmother. She watched in approval. I was becoming a woman. I was neither here nor there about the flavor of the drink, that had to grow on me. Her approval was all that mattered.
I started drinking coffee at home with my parents, feeling a bit more grown up with every cup and definitely clearer headed. Within six months, I had set a pattern for life; drinking coffee all morning long but stopping at noon. I probably have coffee embedded in my DNA as a required food group for my system.
My combo coffee grinder and drip coffee machine is my lifeline in the mornings. I’ve gone through a long Gevalia period of life, as well as Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and various other high end brands. It took decades but I finally discovered that it’s not just about the flavor, it’s about the personal connection with the beans. My all-time favorites are grown near Antigua, Guatemala. I get them locally in the form of Pablo’s Pride from Sam’s Club.
With every sip, I am transported back to the cobblestone streets of colorful Antigua; listening to street musicians, exploring the nooks and crannies of the city with friends, and looking forward to “Beer O’Clock” on the roof top of our hotel where we celebrated the sinking of the sun behind the mountains every evening. I wandered through silent, misty coffee groves on that trip and watched Guatemalan men trudge along mountain trails with huge bags of freshly picked beans on their backs. I drank their fcoffee in local restaurants that would hand roast those beans, then grind them just for my solitary cup of coffee. I learned that coffee drinking isn’t about swigging down an entire pot, it’s about slowing down and savoring each sip with conscious awareness of all its mysterious flavors and swirling memories.
I still drink my coffee every morning like my grandmother taught me, jet black and steaming hot. Thank you, Grandma for such a simple pleasure. May there be coffee in Heaven and you be enjoying a porcelain cup of it as I sip from my favorite mug, lovingly remembering you.
Last night my daughters hosted a Halloween teen bash for 12 of their best friends. I am gently recovering this AM. The music divas of the party played the piano and sang so loud I swear I could feel the vibrations rattle the windows. The rest cranked up the dance music IN the same room and were dancing away.
Just as the cacophony reached an ear-splitting, dazzling crescendo, my older son David and his girlfriend Tory showed up. David is considered a “hottie” by the female experts in the crowd and he became the center of attention. He and Tory kept everyone busy in the living room so I could focus on meal prep. I fired up my Forno Classico pizza oven with hickory and walnut scraps from our local sawmill. Everyone made their own pizzas. I fired them off, one and two at a time. The first-timers were in awe of the process.
I had previously mixed up a second batch of dough, this one being whole wheat for pita. After the pizzas were fired, I let the oven cool down to 500 degrees and started tossing in rolled flaps of the whole wheat dough. They puffed beautifully, This morning, I’m chugging coffee and snacking on pieces of pita that are so flavorful, I am not even inclined to layer in veggies or that great eggplant dip I’ve got in the fridge. You can make pita in your range oven but the wood-fired flavor and texture can’t be beat.
Here’s the eye-ball method that I use to prep and bake-off pita:
2 1/2 to 3 cups of warm water
2 tsp salt (or more, depending on taste preferences)
1 tbsp yeast
3 tbsp canola or olive oil
2 pounds whole wheat flour I use King Arthur “white” whole wheat flour You may need more than this though.
Mix,then knead for five to ten minutes, adding additional flour as needed to obtain a lightly firm dough. I use a dough hook on my mixer these days. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and leave in your microwave for an hour. Punch down and let rise again for 30 minutes. Punch down again. Heat up your range to 500 degrees or as hot as you can get it. Place a pizza stone or heavy-duty cookie sheets upside down in the center of your oven as it pre-heats. Pinch off ball of dough the size of an egg or a small apple if you are adventurous. Roll out to 3/8″ thick. Dust both sides with flour if a bit sticky. The trick is to use a rolling-pin to get an even layer here. If you try to pat these out by hand, they won’t puff evenly in my experience. Let rest 10 minutes before baking.
To bake: Sprinkle a bit of flour or corn meal on a pizza peel or the back side of a cookie sheet, Place dough rounds on peel and slide into oven onto hot pizza stone, cookie sheets, or onto hearth of your WFO. Watch carefully. Baking time can be from two to five minutes, depending on temps and dough thickness. When pita have puffed to max height, let bake an additional 20 seconds or so, depending on oven heat. Some pita, for some reason will refuse to puff up. Don’t despair they’ll still taste amazing. Remove and let cool on an open counter. When all have cooled, store in plastic bags at room temp or freeze. I bake these as going away gifts for the adults at our pizza parties. These pita taste amazing the next morning with feta cheese, tomato slices, Kalamata olive and fresh basil, cilantro, etc… As I have been mostly a vegan, these days I make up a creamy dip from sautéed eggplant, onions, and garlic.
Makes 10 or more plate sized pitas. Happiness factor: 5 stars
I worked furiously today on dismantling my solar tunnel. Am moving it to my new production facility, hopefully before local strains of duckweed go dormant for the winter. The solar tunnel is 20 x 50 ft long and will now be morphed into a greenhouse. It’ll get set up in a wind-protected area behind the facility. Might use it for added heat in the main building as well. Free heat. Why not??? This is supposed to be a sustainable company, after all.
Electricity and water gets turned on tomorrow. A crew is coming to help me prep the building and surrounding area. My TO DO list is two pages long and I dare not leave one location without checking my list twice for the hastily scribbled mini lists with items such as “DON’T FORGET THE WRENCH SET AGAIN!!!!” and “Pack drinking water and food or you will not be worth anything by 2:00pm.” Am excited because I will have a clean room at this facility and plan to continue my research on optimal strains, growing conditions, and continued animal testing (in a really good way- no worries)
Right now I rattle around in this 22,000 sq ft. building and feel rather ridiculous at claiming all this space for my little company. I recall what it was like early in my marriage when we only had three toddlers and had just moved into a 5,000 sq ft home. I can still hear the echoes of Tonka trucks banging on the tile floors and the screams of delight that amplified to mega decibels from happy youngsters careening on tricycles from room to room. It seemed like it took no time at all to fill up all that space with our lives, furniture, and eventually nine kids. In the latter years, we seriously thought about maybe building on a couple more bedrooms as we were so crowded.
This is that time all over again. I envision where the processing line will go, where the packaging line needs to be, the warehouse, the lunch/hangout room, the shipping dept, the offices… Hope it all grows so fast, I need to expand or move within a couple of years. I’ll have a wonderful team of co-workers by then. So, for now, I savor this peculiar moment in history when it’s just me and my vision.
Our ILA website now sports some “straight from the pro’s” short audio clips on various aspects of growing, and dehydrating duckweed. This is stuff you won’t find in the books!
Have wound up duckweed production for the year here in Kentucky. My duckweed mats are thinning and the biomass is shifting gears to that of more starch than protein. My solar dryer is now an empty shell. Sort of sad but next year, all will begin Phase 2 and change is good.